Senate committee narrowly passes meds-for-meth bill as advocates start their own radio advertising campaign

In the face of a strong lobbying effort by makers of over-the-counter cold medicines, a state Senate committee narrowly approved a bill today that would require a prescription for most products containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient used to make methamphetamine.

Senate Bill 50, approved 6-5 by the Judiciary Committee, is sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, left, but he said he isn’t sure of its chances in the full Senate, reports Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader. A similar bill got out of committee last year but never came to a vote on the Senate floor because it lacked the votes to pass. This year’s bill would not apply to gelcaps, which are more difficult to use in meth making.

The Kentucky State Police recorded about 1,200 meth labs last year, and former meth addict Melanda Adams, from Stivers’ home Clay County, told the committee she believed the bill would “cut the burgeoning number of dangerous home-made meth labs in the state.” The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a non-profit that represents the over-the-counter medicine industry, argues that requiring a prescription would “create a hardship for legitimate consumers,” reports Jessie Halladay of The Courier-Journal.

Only Oregon and Mississippi have passed such laws, so Kentucky has become a firewall for the drug makers’ lobby, which has bought many radio commercials urging people to contact senators in opposition to the bill, contending it would “punish Kentucky families” and pushing an alternative measure that would bar people convicted of meth making from buying the medicines. Opponents of that bill say meth makers would continue to use surrogates to buy the medicines for them. Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, who voted for SB 50, called the radio ads “scare tactics.” UPDATE: For more on the lawmakers’ complaints about the ads, from cn|2 Politics, click here.

As of Feb. 3, the group had spent more than $82,000 running ads on Louisville, Lexington and Somerset radio stations owned by Clear Channel Communications Inc., the nation’s largest radio operator, according to public-inspection files at those stations. In 2011, CHPA paid the Kentucky Association of Radio and Television more than $93,000 to run ads, according to public-inspection files from Cummulus Broadcasting, another major owner of stations in Kentucky.

UPDATE, Feb. 17: The drug makers have a 60-second ad from Pat Davis, who identifies herself as “a Kentucky resident for over 20 years” and the mother of six children who all “battle allergies.” She is not identified as the wife of 4th District U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, who is not seeking re-election. She testified against last year’s bill. Here is the ad, via Page One Kentucky, a popular blog that has been critical of the legislation.

The drug makers’ ads have been running uncontested for two months, but this week a group headed by Knox and Laurel County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele, Real Facts About Meth, offered a counter-ad, describing the impact of meth on communities. The group does not appear to be well funded; its website solicits contributions.

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